When contemplating having an important conversation, we tend to think of all the things we would like to say, as well as the negative replies we might hear. Important conversations, however, involve two people trying to come to an understanding in a dynamic environment, with no way of knowing how the conversation will unfold. This give and take experience is a process involving many skills:
- clearly expressing thoughts and feelings
- stating intentions and goals
- listening carefully
- reflecting back what you heard
- asking clarifying questions
- giving thoughtful feedback
Patience, respect, and genuine curiosity, though they may not technically be called skills, also help.
Learning and honing these skills are key to having successful, important conversations. Planning a string of one-liners, which is something we all do, is not likely to set the stage for understanding—though it might be a stepping stone as we organize our thinking and help us blow off some steam.
Interpersonal communication is complex and humbling. Respecting this complexity goes a long way toward helping us have successful, important conversations. Acknowledging the importance of the conversation and your intentions up front sets the stage, as does making it clear that you sincerely wish to hear the other person’s point of view. Asking to be heard—“Do you have a moment? I’d like to say a couple of things and ask for your patience.”—also helps.
Then, of course, you have to keep an open mind when listening to the response. You must discover what is truly of importance to the other person. Remember, too, that you’ll likely need a follow-up conversation (or two!) after you’ve both taken time to reflect. Revisiting conversations with an increased clarity shows you have an investment in the relationship. Managing important conversations successfully helps build and maintain successful relationships, which is essential to our personal well being and our satisfaction in the workplace.